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There has been a fierce battle occurring among people who explain the evolution of human female orgasm, about its evolutionary origins and nature. The core issue is that the female orgasm presents an evolutionary puzzle. Unlike the male orgasm, female orgasm is not associated with any increase in fertility or reproductive success. Several types of theories have been offered for the evolution of the trait, but I shall show that only one of them has very much evidence supporting it, while the others are flawed by conflicts with the evidence. Oddly, these conflicts went unnoticed for many years by the scientists themselves, through the operation of both sex bias and a bias of preferring adaptive explanations over other types of evolutionary explanations. I shall review the familiar theory that orgasm evolved to support the bond between the man and the woman, as well as the theory that the sperm is sucked into the womb during orgasm with a high-quality male. The best-supported theory is the account stating that female orgasm is a bonus of direct selection on the male orgasm, and is not a direct adaptation in the female that we can detect. I shall discuss the biases that led the biologists and the rest of the public astray, that is, that led to the widely-held but seemingly premature dismissal of the bonus account, and the wide-spread acceptance of the unsupported accounts.


Elisabeth Lloyd received her B.A. from the University of Colorado in 1980, and her Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1984, where she worked with Bas van Fraassen. She has received numerous awards and grants, including several from the National Science Foundation. Her research interests are primarily in the philosophy of biology, general philosophy of science, the role of models in science, and gender issues in science. She has recently taught courses in these areas as well as a graduate seminar on the American pragmatists, and one of the philosophy surveys in our department. Her publications include The Structure and Confirmation of Evolutionary Theory (Greenwood Press, 1988; Princeton University Press, 1994) and “Feyerabend, Mill, and Pluralism” (Philosophy of Science, 1997).

Professor Lloyd holds the Arnold and Maxine Tanis Chair of History and Philosophy of Science. She is also Professor of Biology, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Affiliated Faculty Scholar at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, and Adjunct Faculty at the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior.

Read more about Elizabeth Lloyd.


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